We put a smile on the face of retired teacher Jean Cowles this week by reuniting her with her wartime wedding report from 75 years ago.
Jean (99) was a lance corporal in the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the army, when she met and married then sergeant Laurie Cowles, of the Royal Army Ordance Corps on June 10, 1942.
A friend let us know Jean had lost her own copy of the report, so we copied one from our sister paper, the Lincolnshire Free Press, and presented it to Jean at her Spalding home on Tuesday.
“I am very pleased to have it,” said Jean, who told us their wedding in Blaenavon, South Wales, and honeymoon in Gloucester happened in the space of 48 hours because that’s all the leave they were allowed from their units in Reading.
After the war, the couple settled in Jean’s home village of Weston.
Laurie became a teacher and used to cycle from Weston to Holbeach St Marks.
He worked in Holbeach St Marks until the mid-50s and then switched to Gosberton Clough school where he was headmaster for 25 years.
A national shortage of teachers saw Laurie talking Jean into taking over the infants’ class, a role she performed for around ten years.
“Then I wasn’t allowed to do it any more because they had got plenty of proper teachers coming in,” said Jean.
Jean soon heard one of Ayscoughfee Hall School’s teachers was away ill and asked if she could cover until the teacher was well again – and ended up staying for ten years until she was 60.
That retirement was brief because Jean was asked back for another year. She says: “I retired from there twice.”
Sadly, Laurie passed away some years ago aged 77.
Jean says: “His ashes are scattered under an oak tree in the school playing field and that’s where I am going.
“He was very well thought of.”
Jean frequently returns to the Gosberton Clough school and is “very well looked after”.
She says: “Some of the little kids that started there are great big farmers now but they have always got a hug for me.”
Jean was born Jean Ella Bailey on August 31, 1917 at Moulton and was the youngest of nine children.
In those days, schoolchildren didn’t have books and wrote on a slate with chalk.
“I remember going to school in the morning with two bits of rag pinned on each side of me,” said Jean. “One was my hankie and the other was for spitting on and wiping the slate clean.”
She was a very bright girl.
“I passed the 11-plus but I couldn’t go to the high school because Mum hadn’t enough money to buy me a uniform and they wouldn’t have you without a uniform,” said Jean.
She left school aged 14 and various jobs followed, including domestic service, until she joined up the day after Britain declared war on Germany.
Jean has a son, Trefor, daughter Hilary, five grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren. Sadly her elder son, Barry, has died.
• JEAN’S WORLD RECORD
As well as teaching at Ayscoughfee, when the school was in the town’s celebrated hall, Jean took up bowls there – a passion that would eventually earn her a Guinness World Record.
Jean gained the record in 2012 for being the oldest indoor bowls player, when aged 94 years and 183 days, while she was still an active member of Spalding and District Indoor Bowls Club.
She was presented with her certificate for the feat by the chairman of South Holland District Council.
Jean played bowls until she was 96, finally bowing out because an eyesight problem meant she could no longer see the jack.
As well as friendships formed on the greens, bowls opened up a wider social life with theatre trips and holidays.
Another great passion is Scrabble, which she still enjoys with friends.
Jean maintains her fitness with floor exercises. She still goes out shopping, with a personal helper by her side, and rarely goes out without bumping into a former pupil or two.
Jean says: “Whenever I am out, there’s always somebody that I have got to say hello to and that’s nice.”